A federal appeals court has ordered a defiant Kentucky county clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples -- rejecting her bid to put an earlier ruling against her on hold while she sought an appeal.
Rowan County clerk Kim Davis cannot, on religious grounds, refuse to serve gays and lesbians wishing to marry, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled on Wednesday. The court's decision cited Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark ruling in June that legalized gay marriage nationwide.
"In light of the binding holding of Obergefell, it cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County Clerk's office . . . may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution," the court said.
After a lower court ruled in the couple's favor, Davis defied the order and sued the Kentucky governor for making her choose between "abandoning the precepts of her religion and forfeiting her position," according to her lawsuit.
The 6th Circuit's order echoes the decision of the lower court judge who had initially ordered Davis to issue marriage licenses. As a county officeholder whose "duties include the issuance of marriage licenses," Davis' faith is not impacted, the court said, and there was "little or no likelihood" that she would succeed in her full appeal.
The 6th Circuit is one of the more conservative federal appellate courts in the country. Last year, it ruled against gay couples' right to marry in the states of Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Michigan.
However, that ruling created an opening for the Supreme Court to rule definitively on whether whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry.